Editors from The Courant selected the top 10 news stories for 2016.
They promised a gleaming, $30 million professional soccer stadium that would revitalize Hartford's Colt Park and grab the attention of motorists zipping by on I-91. And Hartford officials couldn't resist.
But the ambitious plan to redevelop Dillon Stadium seems to have been a mirage. And in June, following months of revelations in The Courant, the would-be developers of the stadium were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent enterprise that victimized city taxpayers and small contractors.
James C. Duckett Jr. and Mitchell Anderson are accused of submitting bills to the city of Hartford to cover invoices submitted by companies working on the stadium — and then diverting the money to themselves rather than passing the money on to their subcontractors. The indictment also charges that hundreds of thousands in invoices were submitted to the city for work that was never performed.
Duckett and Anderson face criminal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and conducting illegal monetary transactions. The fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years each, and the monetary transaction charges carry a maximum 10-year sentence. A trial could come in 2017.
The contract to redevelop Dillon was held by Premier Sports Management Group, a business created by Anderson, who later joined forces with Duckett. City development officials paid Premier about $1.6 million to cover contractor invoices, but more than $1 million of that money never made it to the companies. Bank records show hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred to Duckett, Anderson or companies they controlled.
In addition to having criminal charges against them, Duckett and Anderson face civil lawsuits filed by the city and an architecture firm, each of which seeks hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Premier Sports. But most of the money is gone. Premier Sports' bank accounts have been drained, although about $170,000 was transferred to Anderson's lawyer, who is holding it in escrow. A judge ruled this month that lawyers for the city can seize that money if they are successful in their civil suit.
Meanwhile, Dillon Stadium remains dilapidated. City officials canceled the contract with Premier Sports and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, elected after the city made the deal with Premier, has shown little interest in reviving an expensive redevelopment project.
While the Dillon Stadium deal collapsed, the prospect for professional soccer in the city was revived by entrepreneur Aaron Sarwar, who bought the rights to Hartford City FC – the team slated to play at Dillon. On Saturday, Sarwar announced that the team, now affiliated with the National Premier Soccer League, will play its home games not at Dillon – and not even in Hartford – but at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.